Jessie Raymond: Just ask me, the expert gardener
This year, the state of the world demands that I grow an impressive vegetable garden.
It would be a first.
But producing vast quantities of home-grown food has taken on new importance for me. It’s one small way I can exercise control over my environment.
Right now, I may not be able to visit restaurants or gather with large groups of people (for cockfights, I assume, or for whatever reason people gather in large groups), but I can at least strive for self-sufficiency.
I have to admit, as a response to the threat of potential food shortages created by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s pretty weak. A fistful of misshapen carrots is not going to be the difference between us surviving the winter or starving. But the mere idea that we might face disruptions in our food supply adds to my current anxiety about the future.
I need to feel secure about something right now.
Technically, I should be an expert gardener; I mean, we own a tractor. And when I’m riding it with casual authority, moving loads of composted manure from point A to point B, I feel like I know what I’m doing.
Saturday, buoyed with confidence after dumping some manure on point B, I deftly put in my peas. I planted three varieties in a raised bed and fashioned a variety of supports, using sticks for the short peas and some old fencing for the tall ones.
If you drove by and saw me, standing next to the tractor, hands on hips, assessing my professional-looking pea supports, you’d think I was, in fact, an expert gardener.
“I bet she knows how to deal with cucumber beetles,” you’d say. “She looks like someone who keeps up with her mulching.”
If you only knew.
I headed back to the house to make notes in my trusty garden journal. I use it every spring to keep track of my gardening activities. With the flip of a few pages, I can tell you exactly how many onions I planted in 2013 and what kind of string beans I grew in 2018. (To date, no one has asked.)
I tend to get tired of the journal — and the garden — by the Fourth of July, however, so if you read it, you won’t learn that in 2013 I let the onions be overtaken by weeds; I ended up harvesting only a dozen or so, and those were small and hard to peel. You’ll never know that in 2018 I forgot to pick the beans until the pods were huge, the contents dry and hard; at least our pigs liked them.
Anyway, once indoors, I momentarily forgot about the garden journal. My eye landed on the flats of tomato seedlings on the kitchen table. They prompted me to do what I do every spring: get distracted searching YouTube for gardening advice I ultimately won’t follow.
One video featured Todd, a genial university extension guy, who recommended a new-to-me technique for controlling rampant tomato plants: staking. You prune each plant back to one main stem, which you tie to a tall pole.
“Be warned,” he said, waving his secateurs at the camera, “the pruning is very labor intensive.”
“That’s OK,” I said, like a pro. “I got this.” (I currently have, for reasons I can’t rationally explain, 54 tomato seedlings. There is no way I “got this.”)
What I forget, and what Todd doesn’t know, is that after a gung-ho start in the spring, I often give up. With my lack of natural gardening skills, difficulty staying on task and tendency to get overwhelmed late in the season, the garden doesn’t stand a chance.
Wait a minute. Stop.
That was the old me. The new me, driven by fear of food insecurity, is going to be capable and motivated. I can do this.
With renewed resolve, I closed the laptop and picked up the garden journal to enter my pea-planting details. While referring to the seed packets, however, I made an unfortunate discovery.
Somehow, I had constructed a six-foot trellis for the 24-inch peas and a 30-inch “pea stick” fence for the six-foot peas.
The mix-up was typical for me.
And so was the reaction.
“Oh, well,” I told myself. “Some years the peas don’t even come up, so if I’m lucky, it won’t turn out to be a problem.”
This attitude — even in the face of potential food shortages, and despite our owning a tractor — tells me maybe I’m just not expert gardener material.
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